Hey there, I’m Andrew; game industry professional, reviewer, gamer, fellow Boardgaming.com member and the host of BoardGaming.com’s discussion series called “Your Turn.”
This is your chance to let us know what YOU think about a variety of topics related to hobby gaming. I’ll start the conversation and then it’s “your turn” to chime in and add to the discussion. Each Your Turn discussion will have a new topic, and we may even have some special guests make a surprise visit down the road. In the meantime…
Mainstream Game Reviews
Reading mainstream game reviews makes me crazy…sometimes.
See, like most of you, I love to play games – any kind of game. And after I play I love to share my experience. Writing reviews is just an extension of that enjoyment. I do enjoy writing them very much. I think I may be unique in that, I review games most of the time to see if someone else will enjoy the game – even if I don’t. Not everyone does that. I feel it’s a big responsibility considering the number of folks it takes to make a game from concept to store shelf.
The hobby gaming community has grown by leaps and bound the past 10 years. Along with that growth has been a boom of just about anyone sharing their love of games on the inter-web. All this focus on the hobby is great. Well, mostly. Here are a few things that are important to me about mainstream game reviews:
1. Above all – numero uno
My pet peeve with reviews is they need to be written objectively with the idea that any one person’s opinion is just that; their opinion. A reviewer can be an authority on game mechanics, strategies, heck they can win every single game they play. But a reviewer can’t tell me what I would like. Instead they should tell me who would like the game. (Shameless plug) That’s what I like about BoardGaming.com reviews. If you’re a Power Gamer we don’t insult you for not liking Fluxx. Fluxx is probably not for you. Stay away.
2. Negative reviews
I cringe when I read a negative review. Maybe because I am a softy. In reality, most bad games don’t get produced. Manufacturers won’t take a risk like that. Which means that most games are at least …ok? Which also means, that a negative review is just another way of saying that the reviewer didn’t like that specific game. That’s not objective. I wish mainstream reviewers wouldn’t review games they don’t like. I feel that all the folks that worked on the game are being done a disservice. I’m not sure that the bad review will help gamers make a good choice, if that the reviewer’s intention. Their silence should say more than words.
3. Games they haven’t played
Reading the rule book and analyzing a game isn’t playing it. A game needs to be experienced with players and interaction. Reviewers can’t provide a real review without experiencing it the way it was meant to be played. If someone hasn’t played a game then it shouldn’t be reviewed. Sometimes, I can sort of tell that the reviewer is just walking through the gameplay and hasn’t really played.
4. Provide a good “How to Play” overview
I watch and read reviews to find out how to play mostly. Going back to #1, this will allow me to make my own decision on whether I will play or not. Reading rulebooks is fun to me, but watching someone play is awesome (Thanks Rodney Smith and family!).
5. Try not to compare one game to another
“It’s like Heroscape, Resistance and Dixit combined!” What? Unless we the readers have played all those games, the comparison will fall flat. It would be much more effective for reviewers to not rely on game comparisons so that a wider audience will understand what’s unique about the game.
The reviews I am talking about above are mainstream reviews for mass public consumption – not user reviews. User reviews are honest and unbiased because they are reviews of games the user own or played of their own volition. It bears mentioning that reviewers who are sent review copies have to review those games. They are obligated to. And I guess that may be where these issues above go awry. Time and attention span only allow someone to apply so much focus to each game.
Needless to say, I very much adhere to the philosophy of BoardGaming.com (Shameless plug #2!): there is a game for everyone. We try to provide a good overview and then say what we like about the game and make sure that we communicate who that game is right for. But in my case, I don’t presume to think to tell you what you should think. I think I’ll leave your thinking up to you. Deal?
Who are your favorite reviewers? How much does a review affect your decision to play/buy a game? What parts of a review affect your decisions the most (ie: game play, setup, components)? What parts of a review do you tend to skip over?